Leo Yankevich was an American poet and the editor of The New Formalist.
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Famous Leo Yankevich Poems
The Donetsk Morgue
Some lie alone on carts,
while others who are new,
wait stacked up on the floor.
For you see: there’s a queue
inside the Donetsk morgue.
Death masks and private parts
here are processed and tagged,
cadavers on display,
mere torsos, arms and legs,
mouths open, nothing to say.
They can no longer hear
the whistle of big guns,
nor feel guilt in the nude.
Outside, their blood still runs
near where they went for food.
A black crow captures a tear
in the smart phone of its eyes,
and heaven welcomes peace
established by the flies,
and calls for their release.
When viewed from the grey bridge above
they are black submarines that wait
to be refueled. Each collared dove
is their tanked diesel, the sandy shore
of the green isle their pastel plate.
With gaping mouths they drag them down
to the bone yards of pike and bass,
to the cold water, deep and brown,
then they release them at the door
between the clouds that pass and pass.
Dawn of pewter, nary a cloud.
A city dove alights the cypress,
the forsythia touches the moon.
Of all the signs of the zodiac
cancer rises over her brow,
wrinkled for thirty-seven years.
Then the constellation fades,
the sun burns the weeds on the lawn
until suddenly they are green.
There’s hard-wrought solitude:
past fifty, out for beer,
alone, not lonely. Ear
attuned to music, food
inside the belly, fine—
knowing dream is better
than a lost love letter,
old teats scrawled with a tine.
Gay Pride is raised, and Dixie’s down.
The Kenyan king inside his House
has it lit to reflect his crown.
Ms. Jenner’s teats swell in her blouse.
Burrs prick the sky in Baltimore,
more melons ripen in the South.
The US of old is no more.
The racist straight must shut his mouth.
We are all now confederate,
with midnight spangled overhead,
although beyond, cold, temperate,
the stars say the dawn will be red.
Three pamphlets in which he spared none
do not diminish my esteem.
Rats in a stable are not horses.
(How well he knew their beady eyes,
steaming sewers and twisted knives!)
The pamphlets are medals on his chest,
pearls of truth upon his canon,
while the gnawed brown beams of Europe
crumble in the metro slums
and France relents once more, and burns.
At midnight they descend the hill,
(fur and flesh caught between their teeth) ,
howling at the moon and stars,
delighting in the knee-deep snow,
and in the purity of the pack,
while the wise red fox hunts alone.
Beneath the rowan berry,
the mackerel midnight,
with dew upon its snout,
foe to the frog and beetle,
always in the corner
of grey tabby cat eyes,
it greets me as if Plato
in the cave, I with beer
deposit bottles, and belly
graveyards towards heaven
that only I can people
in Hades or at home.
Piss in the old man’s pail,
young raven on the sill,
half moon carved out of pewter,
the stars cruel as the night.
like Jezu on the wall,
but not the wolves, the vipers,
the flies, the maggots, time.
I came back, the wind whistling in my ear,
dove on my elbow, crow on my torn cuff,
but I could not remember; the long lost year
having left the hourglass like the love
that sifted through my hands less able now.
Dry mouth my only friend and fiercest foe,
I wobbled past each flowering branch and bough,
neuropathy on fire from sole to toe.
Lightning in a bottle lit my way
to where the moss was lush upon the stones,
and crosses mocked the many shades of grey,
the shadows over my skin, skull and bones.
A Hundred Since The First
For five days the blowflies have cleansed their bones.
Now they lie waiting for the August rain,
for holy water, afterlives beyond Ukraine,
sure heaven neither judges nor atones?
Atop tarn uniforms, their sun-bleached skulls
resemble cauliflowers amid rapeseed,
fodder for architects and lords of greed
who build Earth’s fences and tear down Earth’s walls.
No second coming for these meek and poor,
no Christ to lean on, anti-christ to blame—
they mistake fuse for wick and pray to flame
we’re not on the eve of the third world war.
The final leaf falls on the eve of his birthday,
And a dying man coughs in the wake of his prayers.
Remind him, rumour of the sun, this cloudy day:
His breath’s a boon on the banister, up the stairs,
And his falling lungs a temple of holy airs
At the thorny altar he climbs along the way.
In the chapel of hushed hymns and grave mysteries
Let him not kneel to weep before his gasping words,
Nor die forsaken in a desert of parched seas,
But have him toll love in the belfry with the birds.
Greeted by it, may Gabriel touch and heal his hurt
And his ecstatic heart spurt its epiphanies.
He’ll part this world with feathers on his feet,
the ton of five & dime cement no longer heavy,
his battered brow resembling morning wheat
as sunup blesses rusty Dodge and Chevy.
And hipsters coming out saloon and church
will mark a glimmer of unworldly light
when for a second he climbs walls to perch
by Jesus, having left for good the night.
And yet, his debt now paid in full, he’ll bask
in glory on the surface of the sun
as bubbles rise and peel away his mask,
and he himself, no longer on the run,
embraces peace, peace that will greet us all
(the twin of silence in that timeless land) ,
since feathers and cement won’t break our fall
and faith’s too airy to provide a hand.
for Cornel Adam Lengyel (1915-2003)
It is a day like any other day.
Bullfinches bathe in dust along the path.
Two hedgehogs mate. A crow attempts to sing.
The cherries bloom until you see an orchard
and in a puddle snowdrops touch the sky.
Then, when you least expect, you reach your goal.
Your heart stops, and you fall towards your shadow.
In deep, deep autumn when the last leaves lie
beneath the barren limbs of skeletons,
leaning westward in the blast and eye
of a storm, as if walking where the sun’s
rays blaze on, in the gospels of the mind,
amid the tattered pages of Saint Mark,
you find yourself no longer fully blind,
following the evangelists, the bark
of their robes still touched by the holy word,
their mortal Teacher not too far ahead,
where winter’s followed by a singing bird,
and leaves are resurrected from the dead.
The clouds are ragged as his clothes,
fox-grey and bloody from new wounds.
The river is a vein that flows
towards his hermit heart, festooned
with briars, and with poison oak.
Five beaver pelts press on his spine;
the spirit of an arrow strokes
his beard; his sweat turns into brine.
He’ll build a tiny pillar of stone
in his mind, and only speak to those
who speak to him, for when alone
the Lord keeps him wherever he goes.
The summit is the goal, although the way
is thorny and rough. The bark of spruces brushes
your arms as you await the sudden ray,
and beetles pock your skin as water rushes
in the stream beneath the rocky ridge.
It’s taken you a half a century
to get this far. Below the hanging bridge,
there is a skeleton and broken knee,
soiled jeans, torn shirt, boots caked with clay and mud,
a little temple, and what looks like a scar.
Yet biding your time was enough, the thud
of your heart now the echo in dry blood,
lips watered by the moon and the first star
weeks after the drought following the flood.
We went down to the market.
Your hand inside my pocket
was soft and ivory white,
your eyes two jewels bright
beneath gold locks of hair,
flowers in April air.
We walked where loving led,
and did not look ahead.
We did not see the hens
headless on the fence,
the quartered hogs on hooks,
the butcher’s angry looks,
the crones with wizened hands
behind the tulip stands,
their thin grey hair unmade,
their eyes lit dim from trade,
devoid of beauty’s powers,
but selling the same flowers.
When he beheld stars in her eyes at play,
and when he heard their laughter in her voice,
he never doubted. He could but rejoice:
Her soul was real, real as the Milky Way.
He was a planet spinning round her glow,
he was alive because she was the sun.
But that was when their marriage had begun,
so many warm, bright memories ago.
These nights she sits inside the winter house,
her hands limp in a flowered kiddy-bowl,
her supper splattered on her bib and blouse,
her eyes, her eyes—now denser than a hole
that over pink horizons of their scars—
blackens planets and eclipses stars.